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How to visit furanchos, Galicia's intriguing unofficial restaurants

For a few months each year, winemakers open their homes to visitors, serving local dishes — and their own tipples.

Diners at Furancho Chipirón enjoy the house wine.

Photograph by Ben Roberts
By Jessica Vincent
Published 2 Aug 2022, 12:30 BST

The waitress arrives with a stack of china bowls and an oversized milk bottle filled with yellow liquid, glowing bright gold against the afternoon sun. It’s wine — sharp and sweet, almost like cider — and the bowls, cuncas in Galician, are for drinking from. 

“What can I get you?” she asks. I haven’t seen a menu, but I’m expected to know the answer. Noticing my blank expression, she flashes an oil-splattered note with five dishes scribbled on it. “Usually people order the chipirones and the raxo,” she says, disappearing back into the kitchen. Baby squid and grilled pork loin it is.

Chipirón only opens as a restaurant a couple of months a year. It’s one of dozens of furanchos — homes in Galicia’s Rías Baixas, mostly in the province of Pontevedra, where winemakers sell surplus from the year’s harvest. The tradition dates back to the medieval period, when winemakers, advertising with a bay branch on the front door, would sell leftover wine to neighbours and friends. Over time, their customers began to bring food — tortillas, fried padrón peppers, cold cuts — to accompany the wine, and eventually Galicia’s enterprising winemakers began to make and serve their own food to paying guests too.

Baby squid cooked in garlic and olive oil, served with potatoes.

Photograph by Ben Roberts

Over time, the furanchos — also known as loureiros (named after the laurel or bay tree) — have found themselves at the heart of a thriving underground food scene. They became so popular that in 2012, under pressure from mainstream restaurants losing out on weekend custom, the government imposed a number of rules to regulate how and what they could sell. Furanchos can only open for a maximum of three months of the year, between 1 December and 30 June, and can only serve up to five dishes, selected from a pre-approved government list of 10. They’re only permitted to sell their own wine (no water or coffee), which must be made from local grape varieties.

At Chipirón, the eponymous dish of baby squid is served with boiled potatoes and crispy fried garlic, and arrives first. The squid is pink and glistening with oil. It’s soft in the middle, with a light crunch from the charred tentacles coated in sizzled garlic. The pork loin follows, coated in a lightly spiced marinade of garlic and paprika. It’s cooked to perfection. 

As I’m savouring my meal, I’m interrupted by a fellow diner. “Where are you from?” a man shouts from his table. I tell him I’m from England, but that I grew up in the south of Spain, and ask whether many foreigners come here. By now everyone in the room is listening in, and they shake their heads in unison. “There was a couple from Catalonia the other week,” the man says. 

Vineyards in Pontevedra province.

Photograph by Ben Roberts

The room goes quiet for a moment, so I take the opportunity to ask what it is about furanchos that they love so much. “I love them because the food tastes like home,” says one man, which elicits a lot of nodding and murmurs of agreement. “It’s the communal feel for me,” adds a grey-haired woman, who tells me she’s been coming to furanchos since she was a girl. “It’s like being in your own living room.”

I leave my new friends and head north to Furancho Cadaval, where I’ve arranged to meet furancho enthusiasts Carlos López Alonso and his wife, Rebeca. They’re the founders of Furancheiros.com, a not-for-profit website that helps people find furanchos in Pontevedra. On my way, the narrow roads wind past stone houses dotted among vines and citrus trees. At every junction, there’s a reminder we’re deep in furancho country: hand-painted signs, nailed haphazardly to peeling tree trunks, point left and right; bay branches hang on front doors; a man, likely a winemaker, carries a plastic container stained red from grapes. 

When I arrive at Cadaval, Carlos and Rebeca are waiting for me. They introduce me to the Campelos family, who turned their home into a furancho 10 years ago when the parents, Isabel and Jose, lost their jobs. “We were too old to get new jobs,” explains Isabel as she works on her signature dish, empanadas made with millo corvo, ancient black corn that’s experiencing a revival in Galicia. “But we couldn’t afford to retire, so we opened a furancho.”

Diners share empanadas and house wine at Furancho O Cabalo.

Photograph by Ben Roberts

We sit on a long wooden table in a brick and stone courtyard next to the chicken coop, where a typical furancho feast awaits: padrón peppers glistening with rock salt; golden-coloured tortilla made with eggs laid that morning; the black corn empanadas and flambéed chorizo. I try the empanadas first, which are filled with Galician zamburiñas — baby scallops. The corn dough is dense but fluffy, like a savoury cake; the thumbnail-sized scallops simultaneously salty and sweet. 

As we tuck into a fresh batch of empanadas, this time filled with squid cooked in its own ink, I ask Carlos why he and his wife decided to start their website. He fell in love with furanchos after visiting with his parents as a boy, he tells me, but, “in the past, many people — even Galicians — didn’t know about furanchos because there was no information about them online. You couldn’t even find them on Google.” Rebeca chimes in between sips of albariño wine: “We couldn’t understand why we were keeping such an important part of our culture hidden. We love furanchos and we want future generations to be able to enjoy them.” 

We round off the meal with tetilla (a local cow’s milk cheese) and quince jelly as the setting sun turns the cloudless sky a dusty pink. As we say our goodbyes, Isabel returns to a question I’d asked earlier but she’d been unable to answer. “When you asked what furanchos mean to Galicians… there’s this word we have: enxebre,” she says. “It’s hard to explain, but it means something that preserves tradition; something that binds us together. That’s the essence of furanchos.”
 

After a busy lunch service, Carlos, owner of Furancho Chipirón, pours himself a cup of wine to accompany his meal.

Photograph by Ben Roberts

How to do it Vueling flies from Gatwick to Santiago de Compostela, an hour’s drive from Pontevedra, while Ryanair flies from various UK airports to Porto, a two-hour drive away. Gran Hotel Nagari Boutique & Spa in nearby Vigo has doubles from €112 (£93), room only. 

Published in Issue 16 (summer 2022) of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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